A Better Internet Is Waiting for Us ⊗ Epic’s Metaverse ⊗ The Myth of the Return of the City State ⊗ If you don’t build it, they won’t come — No.106

This week → A Better Internet Is Waiting for Us ⊗ Epic’s moves towards the Metaverse ⊗ The Myth of the Return of the City State ⊗ If you don’t build it, they won’t come

A year ago → We can’t own information.

A Better Internet Is Waiting for Us

For various communities, there’s an ongoing transition to smaller platforms and more private forums, where they can communicate away from the tsunami of information (and rage) of the Facebooks and Twitters. Yancey Strickler called it The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet. Now Annalee Newitz goes further, collecting various opinions and exploring a bit further down the timeline, “looking for a deeper future than the latest gadget cycle.” Which new forms of digital communication might be invented next? Generations who have lived their whole lives with the net might not have as positive an outlook as the current crop of tech barons, what will “internet realists” come up with? Perhaps Safiya Umoja Noble’s “slow media?”

[A] future where the greatest tragedy is not the loss of our privacy. It is the loss of an open public sphere. There are many paths beyond the social media hellscape, and all of them begin with reimagining what it means to build public spaces where people seek common ground. […]

What if future companies designed media to facilitate democracy right from the beginning? Is it possible to create a form of digital communication that promotes consensus-building and civil debate, rather than divisiveness and conspiracy theories? […]

Mr. Scalzi thinks we should turn the whole system on its head with “an intense emphasis on the value of curation.” It would be up to you to curate what you want to see. Your online profiles would begin with everything and everyone blocked by default. […]

After the social media age is over, we’ll have the opportunity to rebuild our damaged public sphere by creating digital public places that imitate actual town halls, concert venues and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks. These are places where people can socialize or debate with a large community, but they can do it anonymously. If they want to, they can just be faces in the crowd, not data streams loaded with personal information. […]

Slow, human-curated media would be a better reflection of how in-person communication works in a functioning democratic society.

Epic funnels ‘Fortnite’ cash into boosting games platform

On of my favorite articles last year, or at least one that has come back to mind quite often, was Matthew Ball’s Fortnite Is the Future, but Probably Not for the Reasons You Think with Epic’s founder Tim Sweeney and his long time obsession with the “Metaverse.” The piece above at the FT goes in that same direction, with the company’s investments in their tools, in multiple acquisitions, and in their hopes for enabling the next great hit based on their tech.

Purchases such as 3Lateral, Twinmotion and Quixel are helping Epic assemble a suite of low-cost tools for creating ultra-realistic digital characters and virtual worlds. […]

Kim Libreri, chief technology officer at Epic, said earlier this year that Unreal Engine’s tools would soon allow developers and film-makers to bridge the “uncanny valley”, making virtual people look totally natural and convincing.

Why ‘The Mandalorian’ cites Fortnite dev Epic Games in its credits

It’s also fascinating to see those same tools being used in tv and movies, they are actually using Unreal to make backgrounds live while filming in front of it, and even using the output directly in The Mandalorian.

But Favreau also brought Unreal onto the set to help with the entire flow of production. This uses a combination of technologies, but it primarily comes down to building computer-generated environments and then projecting them onto LED walls. Those projections then change their perspective and characteristics depending on the position of the camera and what kind of lens it is using. […]

But the on-set Unreal tech is coming along so fast that a VFX team doesn’t always have to replace the LED walls and Unreal renders. Instead, what you often see in The Mandalorian is the result of pointing the camera at a display running an environment from Epic’s video game tools.

A couple of quotes from that Fortnite Is the Future piece:

Epic has also built up another great and particularly hard to establish advantage: some 200MM+ registered user accounts. Each of these accounts is equipped with individual and directly reachable email addresses, in many cases a clear social graph, as well as dual factor authentication via cell phone numbers, and, often, credit cards. […]

In its fullest form, the Metaverse experience would span most, if not all virtual words, be foundational to real-world AR experiences and interactions, and would serve as an equivalent “digital” reality where all “physical” humans would simultaneously co-exist.

New Types of Organization and the Myth of the Return of the City State

I’m going to have to come back to this once I’ve read McKenzie Wark’s Capital Is Dead Is This Something Worse? which I think will thread some of the same areas (in terms of framing today’s economy, not in the historical parallels used) but I’m always a sucker for references to city states, guilds, or the Hanseatic league. So I’m sharing this piece by David Galbraith on these topics and China, the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, and how we shouldn’t consider ourselves to be in a fourth Industrial Revolution. I haven’t watched the video of his longer talk on the same line of thought so I’m not sure what to think of these ideas yet, but worth a read anyway.

[T]hings like cities traditionally sat on flows like rivers, but today these flows can be capital or information, and their very existence increases these flows — as a company grows it consumes more capital and and as a city grows it consumes more resources while they both produce more. This is a feedback loop and operates much like an engine does, with cycles where the flows of fuel create more flows which produce power or growth. […]

We are not in the 4th industrial age, we are in the post industrial age and the period of the post industrial age we are in will produce completely new organizational structures just as the shift between feudal to industrial did. […]

Global cities in the West that can take advantage of these macro flows can leverage remote production in China at the expense of production in their hinterland within the same nation state, so the nation states decline relative to these globalized cities like London.

If you don’t build it, they won’t come

Ana Brandusescu explains how Responsible AI and ethics in AI dont go far enough, the question can’t only be how to build something responsibly but if it should be built in the first place. There must be stronger sanctions, repercussions including people behind these products going to prison, and much much broader consultations with varied specialists in other fields. (The article includes loads of references to research and articles.)

Murgia and Yang (2019) report that US tech companies like Microsoft are collaborating on on facial recognition technology research with China’s National University of Defense Technology under China’s Central Military Commission. […]

Responsible AI needs to include regulations and sanctions that are enforced so AI systems and the humans involved in designing, building, and implementing them will be held accountable – and be responsible for the consequences, good and bad. […]

Power structures (and I don’t mean power grids) in AI and their impact on product design and development require interrogation by outsiders. This means almost everyone who isn’t technology industry. For example, regulators, social workers, ethnographers, grassroots organisations, local activists working on digital and non-digital projects, to name a few. Collective action also includes unpacking power dynamics in user interactions


Header image: Maciej Leszczynski, Nowhere — Via Darran Anderson.